Catholic social thought is all the rage these days. Or so says Michael Gerson, in his never-ceases-to-annoy-me Washington Post column. I think Terry is going to look into the column and some of the recent media coverage of Gerson. But here's just a snippet in which he argues that Catholic social teaching is battling for the soul of the Republican Party:
While it affirms the principle of limited government -- asserting the existence of a world of families, congregations and community institutions where government should rarely tread -- it also asserts that the justice of society is measured by its treatment of the helpless and poor. And this creates a positive obligation to order society in a way that protects and benefits the powerless and suffering.
How does Catholic social thought affect politics? That question is answered a bit by the Associated Press' Eric Gorski in his story about a draft form of a political engagement guide from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The guides are issued in the year preceding presidential elections -- or at least have been for the past three decades, Gorski writes. In the past, the administrative board gave final approval. This year, the full body of 300 bishops will publicly debate and vote on the guide. So what does it say?:
A draft of the document calls abortion and euthanasia "intrinsically evil" and "pre-eminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others." The bishops then cite other threats that can never be justified: human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, racism, torture, genocide, and "the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war."
Throughout the 37-page document, opposition to abortion gets special attention.
"The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many," the draft says.
At the same time, the bishops say Catholics must not dismiss racism, the death penalty, unjust war, torture, hunger, health care problems or unjust immigration policy.
"A consistent ethic of life," the document says, "neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues."
Gorski interviews Denver Archbishop Charles Caput -- a vocal Catholic in the public square -- and he says he has some suggestions for improvement, though he doesn't get specific. Gorski also explains that some Catholic groups have distributed their own voter guides, covering topics ranging from abortion and embryonic stem cell research to poverty and war.
So how do Catholics figure out who to vote for in good conscience? The draft form of the document provides some guidance:
If a Catholic were to vote for an abortion rights candidate expressly because of that candidate's position, that voter would be "guilty of formal cooperation in evil," the draft says. Voting for an abortion rights candidate for other reasons is still "remote material cooperation" with evil. It can be permitted only if there are "proportionate reasons."
Another great article from Gorski. Once the guide is completed, it will prove a good resource for religion reporters. Rather than assuming that they know the church's official position on a given political issue -- or whether the church views all its issues to be equivalent -- reporters should go to the source.